An empty stomach has no ears to hear with

The Bishop of Botswana, Trevor Mwamba is comfortable with the direction and tone of the Indaba process at Lambeth and says that the Bishops have now gotten in substantial discussions about sexuality and the Communion and the importance of the Millennium Development Goals. Real dialog is taking place and Mwamba is says the issues are too important to fall for an agenda that is handed to Africans from the outside.

A report by Pat Ashworth of the Church Times points out that what Sudanese Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul said last week was in answer to a question posed to him as a speculative “what would you do?” but that the Sudanese Church itself never officially called for the resignation of Gene Robinson nor the exclusion of the Bishops who consecrated him.

Mwamba said,

“My personal view is that it wasn’t helpful at all. I can understand where they are coming from in being in a Muslim context. But having said that, I am also aware that somebody organised that position. In the context of the conference it’s regrettable that it was done but here are other factors at play and we need to name those factors.

“We are using each other at times for ends which are not constructive. That’s just one example of people being used. Another is that people are continuously talking up the absence of our brothers from four African provinces from this meeting. But the point is that a lot of those brothers of ours – 200 is a nice round figure – would have wanted to come here. That’s important to say.”

Ashworth continues:

Bishop Mwamba described the situation as it had been in Uganda, “where a special Synod is organised and provision passed which would penalise any bishop coming to the Lambeth Conference. That denied freedom of expression in terms of any individual bishop. The invitation to Lambeth is in the gift of the archbishop and it is up to a particular bishop, not a particular province, to say I will come or I won’t come.

“What are we saying about our leadership styles? It was the same in Nigeria- many would have been glad to come. So when they say 200 of our brothers have boycotted the conference – definitely no. Maybe given the freedom, one or two would have stayed behind. It must be clearly understood: the reason why they didn’t come is that they were forced not to come.” He finds it therefore a paradox that while they stay at home, some of the American allies who have been working with them – for example, Bishop Robert Duncan and others – are here.

The conference has suffered from their absence, “because we believe in reconciliation. That’s the African gift. Lambeth has adopted that style. We must all be at the table and must come. It is disrespectful to our culture for someone not to turn up. There’s nothing commendable about having absented themselves: they are going contrary to the spirit.”

Ashworth reports that Mwamba is feeling upbeat about the progress of the Lambeth Conference and that the Communion will hold together. He said that the problem up until now is that different people on different sides have taken sides based on what they heard or read about other people in other Churches, reading and listening only to those who support their position. The Indaba process, while foreign at first to many participants, is taking hold and creating an atmosphere of real listening and respect which allows those with differing views to remain in relationship. The Bishops have been able to move on to the difficult issues.

“We are now discussing the issues of sexuality and the Communion and have prioritised the MDGs,” he said. “For me, the main thing is the spirit of the meeting: a growing consensus about the need to remain together and to resolve these issues in the context of unity.”

Ashworth concludes:

“But when you move all that clutter in terms of your prejudices and look at the light it is as it is, you see that they are not doing what they thought they were doing. It’s like the Americans going into Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction: you look for things that suit your agenda. People are beginning to see and understand how the American church and the African church operate.

“The Communion will hold together – I’ve always maintained that position and being here affirms my belief more. Sense of consensus about maintaining the unity – we’ll work it out and that’s what we’ve always done. We need to give time to the process, not force things.

He quotes a Swahili idiom: ‘An empty stomach has no ears to hear with’. “We know we must debate the issue of sexuality and give a position, but our people are starving. We are not trivialising it at all for the Americans in their context of issues of justice and civil rights. But our problem is a matter of life and death: that is the difference. We will not fall for that agenda being dictated to us.”

Church Times: The Bishop of Botswana: telling it like it is

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